When we tell our story, we also hear the story. Sometimes we may verbalise and encapsulate something profound, that until that point had remained a source of confusion or dissonance.
Telling our story, telling stories in general, can allow the subconscious to send a message to the conscious mind.
In the essay ‘The Effectiveness of Symbols’ the French Anthropologist, Claude Levi –Strauss discusses the similarities between Shamanism and psychotherapy – he describes the healing nature of using mythic stories to hold and structure experience, facilitating the expression of the unconscious process in a way that is palatable to the conscious mind.
The shaman provides a language, by means of which unexpressed, and otherwise inexpressible, psychic states can be immediately expressed . . . .bring[ing] to a conscious level conflicts and resistances which have remained unconscious . . . . The manipulation must be carried out through symbols, that is, through meaningful equivalents of things meant which belong to another order of reality. [Levi-Strauss 1963]
Levi-Strauss compares the shaman’s role to that of the western psychotherapist, whose role is also to mediate between the patient’s unconscious and conscious. He says, “In both cases the purpose is to bring to a conscious level conflicts and resistances which have remained unconscious.”
In the same way that the shaman’s ritual begins with a narrative that includes details specific to the patient’s life, psychotherapy can uncover detailed and deep narratives that structure our lives – and allow us the opportunity to re write them, if they are no longer serving us well.
In this way psychotherapy can enable us to gain autonomy and freedom.
Life Scripts and Transactional Analysis
Eric Berne developed the concept and paradigm of Transactional Analysis in the late 1950s.
As a theory of personality, Transactional Analysis (TA) gives us a framework to understand how people are psychologically structured. TA uses a three-part ego-state model. Transactional analysis also contains a theory of communication that can be used to understand the personal relationships as well as organisations and wider structures.
Transactional analysis also offers a theory of child development in the concept of the life script This theory explains how our current circumstances and life patterns originated in childhood. Transactional analysis gives us a framework within which we can explore how we continue to replay childhood strategies in grown-up life, and how those mechanisms, that were once incredibly useful, can become self-defeating, painful, or problematic in later life.
Life scripts are not held in the conscious mind and yet they impact what we think about ourselves, our capabilities, and whether or not we believe we are ok. We are seldom conscious of them and rarely know where our belief systems might have come from.
Our life scripts are moulded by our experiences as a child – particularly by our relationships with our primary caregivers, our parents – and the scripts that they developed as children. Likewise, our scripts are also woven by cultural and national forces. Relevant to this attempt to navigate identity is Louis Althusser’s notion that we, as interpellated subjects, will act not only of our free will but also as a result of conditioning by the prevailing ideology. This ideology is reinforced by state and tradition through institutions such as the family religion and education in the first instance followed then by more powerful and explicit forms of control such as the law when used to keep the existing order stable. This theory of interpellation focuses on state control as opposed to the larger ideological structures – but our culture, and there for our own minds are crafted in part by structures like patriarchy and capitalism.
Transactional analysis is also a system of psychotherapy that can be used with individuals, groups, couples, and families that can be applied to many different psychological and emotional difficulties.
The teachings of TA are used in settings other than the therapy room, it can be used in educational, management, and organisational settings to help participants stay in clear communication and avoid setting up unproductive confrontation.
Key Ideas in Transactional Analysis
Ego State Model (PAC Model):
An ego state is a set of related behaviours, attitudes, thoughts, and feelings, it is the way in which we experience and manifest a part of our personality.
In TA there are 3 ego states:
Adult – behaving, thinking, and feeling in response to what is going on in the here and now nd able to access all resources available
Parent – behaving, thinking, feeling in ways that are a copy of one of my parents or other parent figures
Child – behaving, thinking, feeling that I used when I was a child.
When we use the ego-state model to understand personality, we are employing structural analysis.
Transactions, Strokes, Time Structuring:
I can address you from any of my ego states, and you can reply, this exchange is called a transaction. In TA we use the ego state model to analyse these transactions. When we transact with one another, I signal recognition of you and you return that recognition. These acts of recognition are known as ‘strokes’ – there are many different types of stroke. People need strokes to maintain their psychical and psychological well-being, and will accept often accept negative strokes rather than none. When people transact in groups or pairs, they use time in various specific ways which can be listed and analysed, in TA we can analyse how we structure time and learn its implications.
As children we write a life script – our script is almost complete by the age of 7 – though we can adapt it later as teenagers, based on experience.
Once we are grown u we are no longer conscious of the life script we have created for ourselves and yet we continue to faithfully live I out. Using script analysis, we can understand the patterns we may be living out and challenge ourselves to change our scripts to solve problems in the present.
Discounting, Redefining, Symbiosis:
We live our scripts so faithfully that sometimes we will not, or cannot, tolerate things that do not fit our script. Sometimes we will even distort our perception of reality so that it fits our script – this is known as redefining. Another way to ensure that our experience of the world seems to fit our script is to selectively ignore information, through this decision is made unconsciously, this is called discounting.
As grown-ups we may get into relationships that recreate the relationships we had as children with parents, this can result in the two people functioning as though they have three ego states between them rather than six, this type of relationship is referred to as a symbiosis.
Rackets, Stamps, and Games:
When we were children we recognised that certain feelings and ways of being, are encouraged while others were disapproved of or prohibited. To get our much needed positive strokes we may unconsciously decide to feel only those permitted feelings. As adults we may continue to hide our authentic feelings with the feelings that were permitted to us as children – these substitute feelings are known as racket feelings.
If we experience a racket feeling and do not express it and instead store it up – this is known as storing a stamp. A game is a repetitive sequence of transactions in which both parties end up experiencing racket feelings. There are many different games that people play, this concept was made popular through the bestselling book ‘Games People Play’ by psychiatrist Eric Berne.
To reach our full potential and heal those patterns from the past that no longer serve us, we need to update our strategies for dealing with life. This means moving away from our script and gaining autonomy in the form of awareness, spontaneity, and the capacity for intimacy.
The Philosophy of Transactional Analysis in Therapy
The philosophical assumptions of transactional analysis are:
People are OK.
Everyone has the capacity to think.
People decide their own destiny, and these decisions can be changed.
From these assumptions follow two basic principles of transactional analysis therapeutic practice:
The contractual method, which emphasizes that the transactional analysis practitioner and the client take joint responsibility for achieving whatever change the client wants to make, and open communication which means that the client as well as the practitioner should have full information about what is going on in their work together – rather than their being a kind of power hierarchy between them.